Monday, June 25, 2012

Asparagus, garlic scape, caramelized onion, pork loin chop, sweet peas.

Living in a town with a large farmer's market opens up many abbeys of delicious, local, different foods.  I have worked part-time with one particular farmer for a couple of years now, and have learned about the seasons of produce, the politics of the market, and a lot about human folly, the idiocy of the common man.

"These are $1.50 each, yeah?"
"That's what the sign says."
"How about 3 for $2?"

The above scenario is not an extreme or rare occasion.  Believe me, friends, I could go on for days.

On Saturday we were selling beautiful, sweet sweet peas.  My boss had brought 13 bushels to market.  We invited customers to try our delicious peas.  Many of them did, and many of them brought some home.  However, we just weren't selling enough of them to declare the day's sale of them a success.  Many bushels sat on the truck, bushels that would not hold up in quality til the next market.

A gentleman commented on the sweetness of our peas.  "These," he said, "are how they should taste.  The guy over there is selling peas that have pods sweeter than the peas inside.  All starch."  Toward the end of the day a woman came by and pointed at a $22 dollar half-bushel. "Give it to me for twenty," she said.  "That guy over there," she said pointed in the same direction as the other gentleman, "is selling them for twenty.  Would you rather I buy yours or theirs?"

At the end of the day I found myself bringing home a peck of peas just so they wouldn't get composted.  That they would be wasted, I think, broke my bosses heart.  He is a man that is proud of his peas, and very rightly so.  I have a profound respect for the passion and knowledge he brings to growing and selling quality produce, so much so that I am excited to work the job for him even though I have other work, perform the menial tasks, fill the completely absurd hours (6am to 3:30pm), deal with the fucking idiots, and develop my own passion for food and the people that work with it across a variety of scales.  But a peck was entirely too much.


Sunday morning my mother came over and I made her breakfast.  Afterward we talked about human resources and management techniques and principles.  Then we watched Decoding Ferran Adria, the Anthony Bourdain documentary about the avant-garde Spanish chef of the notorious El Bulli restaurant.  

I had seen it before, but I love to come back to it.  I always spend the next several hours in an art-lit glow, like coming out of a deep meditation, perceiving my environment with cleansed eyes.  There is so much I like about it.  The continual look of surprise and admiration on Anthony Bourdain's face, a childish wonder, like every turn of events is the best Christmas present he could have asked for.  And Ferran Adria's look of innocent mastery: its a spiritual thing; he's a man that is there, right then, alert and waking to things with a creative awareness.

He makes a comment toward the end of the film that resonated with me, something to the effect of his experiments are meant to bring people back to the memory of food, the very moment that they first experienced fresh fish.

After my mother left, I wanted very badly to cook.  I didn't feel like just cooking for myself, so I needed to engineer an occasion.  I called my dear friend F., who recently arrived back in the country from Europe to work on his master's thesis at his parent's home, and told him I was going to cook him dinner.  He sounded very receptive to the idea, and we agreed to dinner at 8:30.

I went out to my porch, sat on my rocking chair, poured myself a beer, and shelled peas by hand.  Shelling peas is like counting off the Rosary, but productive - and you can smoke and drink.  I thought about what I was going to cook, how I was going to use my market scores from the day before.  I had a pound of the last Ontario asparagus, a bag of garlic scapes, a bag of yellow cooking onions, and, as I mentioned, too many peas.

I harassed F. on google chat.  "Do you eat pork? Will you drink?"  I never knew him to keep halal, but people change.  A long time in a distant land may have drawn him to his routes, may have caused him to shed his philandering, to seek shelter in austere purity.  
"No. That's haram. Allah ackbar."
"How fucking halal does this meal have to be? Don't screw me around."
"If it was good enough for Caligula, it's good enough for me."

I bought 1.5 litres of shitty Italian red table wine, and went to the meat market and picked up a pound of thin cuts of pork loin chops. I marinated them in a mixture of 3 tablespoons of Sable & Rosenfeld Tipsy Vodka Russian Mustard, two tablespoons of Mr. Gouda Nice & Hot Pepper Sauce, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, mixed together with spoon in a tupperware container.  I let the pork sit in the marinade for about three hours in my refrigerator. 

(An aside about the mustard: I bought it because how couldn't I buy a vodka mustard, but I found it to be a fairly disappointing affair.  Its a sugary honey-ey mustard with a caramelly consistency that I can't say I'm wild about.  I consulted my Russian friend, who is a food enthusiast and as close to an expert to Russian cuisine as I'll ever know and he said that it is definitely not a Russian mustard.  The vodka, we think, is the whole reason Russia is mentioned on the bottle, which could just as easily be Polish or any other culture that has been enlightened by the whole vodka experience.  That said, the mustard doesn't particularly taste in any way of vodka, and vodka is the very last, the 11th, ingredient on the list.)

During my shelling, I decided on caramelized onions, steamed asparagus and garlic scapes, finished in a pan with butter, and steamed peas, with the fried pork loin.  I cut the onions, asparagus, and garlic scapes in advance, so that everything was in its final stage before the actual cooking began. 
40 minutes before F. was supposed to arrive I started the caramelized onions.  I put a tablespoon of vegetable shortening into the pan, and two tablespoons of grapeseed oil, and heated it to the 6 setting on my electric stove.  Once the pan was hot, I put the onions into it, and started doing some dishes.  You need to babysit the onions for quite some time while they caramelize, but you can't dot over them.  Part of the process is letting them stick to the pan a little bit, and stir them only occasionally.  It can take about 20 to 40 minutes to get them to the stage you want them in.  You want them nice and brown, but not black.  It took me about 20 minutes to caramelize my onions.  I deglazed the pan with red wine, and then moved the onions into a pot and put the lid on it to keep them warm while I cooked the rest of the meal.

In the last few minutes of the onions, I started to boil the water for my steamer, and then put the asparagus into it.  I let it steam for about 7 minutes, and then added the garlic scapes for another two minutes.  The contents were then transferred into a non-stick pan and allowed to finish with a tablespoon of butter.  Using the same steam from the asparagus I put about 2 cups of sweet peas into the steamer, and added a spoonful of butter to it and mixed it around.  

At this point I took my marinated pork-loin chops and added it to the same pan I cooked my onions in, heated to the same temperature.  It took only about a minute and a half on each side before the meat got nice and browned and had some beautiful sear marks on it.  I only cooked two pieces at a time, and I had a total of about 10 pieces.  When I was finished each piece I put it into another pot and put a tight fitting lid on it to keep it hot.  When I was about halfway done this, I turned the steamer burner off.  

I was going to put together three plates, which I first garnished with day lily petals from the garden.  Day lilies are completely edible, and the petals are quite sweet.  Apparently you can eat the bulb by boiling it like a potato, and it tasks remarkably similar, but I've never tried that.  I do recommend them as a beautiful, edible garnish though.  Everything was finished together nicely, and I put together the dish once F. arrived.


We brought the meal onto the porch and ate it with said shitty Italian wine, by candle light, gazing longingly into each others eyes.  He told me it was as good as his mom's cooking.  I told him I would hold onto that moment forever.  Then it stormed.

 Muy romantico!

But seriously, good meal, drank too much wine, spent the rest of the night watching cartoons.  Like the adults we've become.